What's an "inclusive" group or event?

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What's an "inclusive" group or event?

Post  denismurf on Thu Sep 25, 2008 12:21 pm

Keeping in mind that we (you readers and posters, as well as the forum administrators) are developing a terminology on the fly, here are 2 examples of what inclusive means to me.

In St. Louis I taught a beginner class for 2 years and then converted it to a group of about 15 that has been going for 3 years more. I hope to achieve something similar with the beginner class in Seattle that starts on Oct. 1.

Example 1. Here's what members of the St. Louis class, then group, expect to find at their weekly gatherings:
- friends, old and new, to chat and dance with
- a warm, welcoming atmosphere, frequently accompanied by home-made or home-grown snacks
- lots of jokes, particularly at the expense of the leader and his/her foibles
- mostly dances they already know pretty much, more or less, not necessarily by name
- an assumption that everybody will do every dance
- a review of any dance they want, even one that's been done for months
- a patient teacher who teaches only one way to do a particular dance, but points out other ways that exist, particularly if the main recreational group does it differently
- once a dance gets going, no verbal admonitions from leader or other members unless a dancer explicitly asks for help or is creating a safety hazard by, for example, traveling in the opposite direction from the rest of the line

Example 2. Live music events that manage to attract more than 100 dancers invariably spawn several lines doing different things to a particular song. A song that feels to me like a pravo is also done as a chochek, a horo, even as Sweet Girl by other dancers in the room. At the folk ball in Madison, small groups of teens and early twenties do the same kind of jumping up and down in circles we've seen at weddings that include disco music. Basically, anything goes.

If anyone else out there is focused on inclusive, or whatever you choose to call it, please post your success stories, setbacks, and questions here.

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inclusive to a fault?

Post  Jeremy Hull on Fri Oct 03, 2008 11:13 am

Our IFD group in Winnipeg is inclusive in various ways, but it can be a difficult balancing act to try to meet the needs of both beginners and advanced dancers. For many years our general approach has been that everyone is welcome, each dance night is a party night of sorts, and we often include easier dances and encourage new dancers to join in. While there is an hour or so of official teaching most nights, there is a lot of incidental teaching throughout the evening as needed. But this can slow things down and it can also mean that we don't dance as many of the more challenging dances that experienced dancers sometimes prefer. We are also inclusive in the sense of repertoire - more than half of the dances are from eastern Europe, but we also like to do dances from all over, including American and Canadian dances, Israeli dances (usually old favorites), occasional contras, Scottish, English, dances from other European countries and a few dances from the non-European world. We don't do many couple dances, apart from easy mixers. Some people prefer or don't like one or another type of dance, but the group is highly social has a fun and friendly atmosphere, so people seem to go with the flow. We also maintain good relationships with other dance groups (especially English, Irish and Israeli groups) and have members in common.

This approach has served us well. Over the past 15 years or so our group has grown slowly and steadily from average attendance of maybe 15 to about 25-30 or more most nights. We have also developed a larger core of regulars who have learned a lot of dances in common, and more people have taken on more teaching and other responsibilities in the group. But we have worried that it's pretty intimidating for beginners to try to join the group. New people come and give it a try every year, but many don't stick with it because it's too hard for them to master the dances quickly enough to feel comfortable, in spite of our efforts to be inclusive. This year for the first time we have set up a beginner's teaching session preceding our regular teaching session. We have talked about this for a long time, but were finally able to try it this year because we have enough volunteers to teach the beginner class. We're only two weeks into it, so we'll see how it goes.

In general I think the social aspects of the group are as important or more so than the dancing itself, although it's hard to separate them. The dance club takes on a life of its own, becoming a social network, a ready-made bunch of people who will show up at a party or event, or do something like going hiking together. There are periodic music parties where everyone brings an instrument and/or songs to sing. We also have monthly practices of our "elastic band" that anyone can come to, where we emphasize folk dance music that people can sing to maximize participation, and when we have a special party night the band does a short set. Sometimes we have almost as many people in the band as dancing.

There hasn't been any regular contra dancing in Winnipeg, so one of our initiatives has been to start a series of 3 contra dances this year, in cooperation with the English group. We don't see this as taking the place of international dancing, but just another fun option.

We seldom perform, only if someone has a particular connection and invites us. For example, this September we were invited by the church where we dance to participate in their street party, which we did and attracted some interest from people there - several people came out to our open house as a result. In theory I think a performance group would be fun and would be interesting and challenging for some of our members, but in practice we don't seem to have enough people with the time to do this or get it organized. Anyway our members are much more oriented towards participation rather than entertainment. I recall one party that, as often happens, was mostly made up of our members. There was a karaoke machine there, but before long we had turned it into a sing-along machine, with everyone reading the lyrics off the screen and singing along.

I would be interested in other peoples' experiences with beginner classes and what things they have done that might have helped make them successful. I would also be interested in comments on how to balance the needs of beginners with more experienced dancers.

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Replying to Jeremy's post, beginner classes

Post  Dansingsal on Fri Oct 03, 2008 2:29 pm

Hi Jeremy,
Regarding beginner classes.

Several years ago (2003??) we had an influx of new people and I began to make the effort to meet with them for just 30 minutes prior to the beginning of the regular dance, to teach them the names of the steps as well as some of the easy dances that we often do in the early part of the evening anyway. Any dances I taught to them, no matter how simple (Bal de Jugon, Zemer Atik, do they get any easier?) we made sure to put on the request board and I spoke to the programmer to make sure she would play those dances so the newcomers would get their lessons reinforced.

Over time, as those beginners gained experience, the 30-minute period morphed into a session for working on trouble spots or on dances recently taught, by request.

These days, when we get raw beginners, someone will take them down the hall and teach them the names of the steps once or twice, but for the most part our session has become a time to work on trouble spots or recently taught dances. I think the friendship level of the group that comes is high, and I really believe that having the sessions has increased everyone's dance ability. We still try to put the dances we worked on, on the request board so we get a chance to practice what we worked on.

We have a couple of people who will step in and lead the class if I can't be there, which is excellent.

I really, really think that having beginner sessions of some kind is imperative. A lot of us (and probably this is true of a lot of groups) live pretty far apart from each other, so having a class midweek won't work, but even just a half-hour right before the regular dance evening is helpful.

Happy dancing,
Sally

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Re: What's an "inclusive" group or event?

Post  Jeremy Hull on Tue Oct 07, 2008 11:49 am

Thanks for the feedback Sally. Somehow our group has managed to exist and grow for many years without a beginner class. I guess we had to because we didn't have the resources to get a separate beginners group going. But it's going to be interesting to see how we make the adjustment this year with the beginners' session before the regular session. So far the beginners' session is going well - 4 came out the first night, 8 the second night and there was a bigger crowd of beginners on the third night, maybe 10-15. Because of the way we're doing it, the beginners' class flows seamlessly into the normal teaching time and it's actually hard to tell who has shown up for the beginners' session and who just came for our regular dance night. We'll see if the numbers continue - my expectation is that they will peak and then start falling off as the fall progresses. Our publicity approach is pretty basic - word of mouth, occasional inquiries through our web site, and recruiting through the old "snowball" method. We have been giving some of our current and new members a little card good for one free admission that they can give to a friend.

The "adjustment" will take the form of trying to re-balance our evening dance program for the new mix of dancers. We want to make sure the new dancers get the chance to practice and solidify their skills with the new dances, so we end up repeating many of these dances during the evening, but that reduces the time available for other, more challenging favorites.

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Re: What's an "inclusive" group or event?

Post  lenusz on Wed Oct 08, 2008 6:35 am

Our group has teaching for a 6 week or month or 8 week sessions, for an hour before our party on an irregular basis, but reasonably frequently. Then, during our party, the rule is, and this is broadcast repeatedly, that the first hour and a half are easy dances, and then after that, anything goes. And usually, from about 10:30 to midnight, the 45 steppers are done, since by that time it's mostly long-time hard-core Balkan dancers remaining (haven't gone home yet). We have spontaneous teaching of dances by the old-timers, randomly, and at any time of the night. We try to have the teachers that teach for the hour before the party really encourage their students to stay for that first hour and a half of the party, at least, and maybe get them to stay longer so they can see what else is possible. And often, when just the hard-core is there, we bring up dances we haven't done for a while and "remember" them "by committee".....LOL.....Within a particular dance group, there are always dances that are more popular with more of the members. So when one or several of the members bring up a dance that has been less popular over the years, it's always interesting and fun, too. As your groups age, your repertoire of dances will grow immensely, so you won't be able to do a given group of dances in one night, or even in a year of "one nights", so give some thought to giving a remembrance session to some "oldies but goodies" every time you meet.

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Re: What's an "inclusive" group or event?

Post  denismurf on Wed Oct 08, 2008 4:40 pm

[quote="Jeremy Hull"]Thanks for the feedback Sally. Somehow our group has managed to exist and grow for many years without a beginner class.

Could you give a few details on how you integrated beginners without a formal class? That's a tough challenge.

I'd also like to stay posted on whether the beginners in your class keep coming to the class and how the group fits them in.

Denis

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OMG, the leader's leaving!

Post  denismurf on Thu Oct 16, 2008 7:20 pm

This subtopic occurred to me last night as I watched the beginners come along.

When I announced that I was leaving St. Louis, many people in my Monday group (which evolved from my beginner class) expressed great uneasiness about whether they could carry on without me. What I pointed out, and what turned out to be true, was that they had everything they needed within themselves, including leadership of all kinds.

Years before we knew we were going to leave, Judy (my wife and co-teacher) and I started encouraging members to volunteer to lead dances of their choice. Within a year or so, most dances, including all the intermediate/advanced ones, had recent beginners as leaders and reviewers. One result was that the pool of people to watch as examples was expanded way beyond the usual authority figures, namely me, Judy, and our resident veteran - Ellen - who ran the group when we were absent and became the honcho after we moved.

Even if we hadn't moved, there's no question in my mind that this diffusion of responsibility contributed to group morale and self confidence as well as overall dancing proficiency. You should see them, folks! Or better yet. Pay a visit if you're in St. Louis on a Monday night.

Off topic: Be sure to visit IFDA too if you're in town on Saturday night.

Details available on request.

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Integrating beginners

Post  Jeremy Hull on Tue Oct 28, 2008 3:43 pm

Denis, you asked, "Could you give a few details on how you integrated beginners without a formal class? That's a tough challenge.

"I'd also like to stay posted on whether the beginners in your class keep coming to the class and how the group fits them in."


[Sorry it's taken me a while to respond - I don't seem to have time to check in every day...]

Until this year we depended on a generous sprinkling of user-friendly dances in each night's program, especially if there were some new dancers or visitors, and a general willingness to slow things down and do some quick teaching when required. Keep in mind that we're not a strictly Balkan group and often throw in easy mixers that people can do with a quick review. We often change the program to accommodate newcomers if we see that what was planned is going to be too hard. In general I think our philosophy has been that dancing is mainly about connecting with other people, not about correct footwork or styling. This worked up to a point, but it has sometimes been an uneasy compromise between doing dances that might be boring to long-time members and dances that are too hard or complicated for new people to do. Some folks have hung in there and others gave up, but the group gradually increased from year-to-year. When I joined the group in 1992 it was at a low ebb as a result of some kind of split that had happened. Average attendance was probably around 15, and there were seldom more than 20, but average attendance now is in the 25-30 range and occasionally we have 40 or more. Motivations vary, but I think the biggest factor in whatever success we've had is that we are a friendly and open group, welcoming to newcomers.

Still, we think it could work better, so we started the beginner session this year. People don't sign up for a set number of weeks, they just come when they can, and our commitment is to keeping supplying teachers through the fall and then assess how well it has worked out. After 6 weeks our attendance has generally been around 6-10, made up of a core of repeat attenders. I don't think there have been any new people since the 2nd week.

The beginners group actually includes some who had already been coming out last year, but who were finding the dancing challenging, so this is helpful for them. In fact, one of them was part of the group who planned and organized the class, someone with a lot of contra dance experience but who has trouble with Balkan and other dances that emphasize footwork. Integrating the beginners into the group doesn't seem to be a problem, although as beginners there are still a lot of dances that they can't do or don't know over the course of the evening. Some tend to leave before the end of the evening, maybe because of this, but also just because it's a long evening if you come for the beginner class at 7:30 and stay until 11:00.

By the way, the main reason we haven't had a beginner's class before now was simply a lack of volunteers to teach it. With the growth of the group, we have ended up with more people who know more dances well enough to teach them. At this point we're rotating beginner class teachers. We identified a set of dances that would teach people some basic, generic dance skills, and then teachers volunteered in pairs to teach a specific set of dances, according to their preference. So it's a collective effort, with the beginners getting exposed to 6 or 8 different teachers and teaching styles in as many weeks. I'm not sure if that's a good thing or not - we'll have to get some feedback on this.

We're having a Halloween party this week - no teaching, but lots of fun with food & a bit of live music from our in-house band. I'll try to provide an update in a few weeks.

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